Joe Zeigler has spent the last six months restoring the basketball courts that changed his life.
But his endeavor, solo at first, came with help along the way.
Zeigler’s story starts back in the ‘90s.
While growing up, Zeigler and friends played countless hours at Academy Courts, an outdoor street court nestled in the thick greenery of Soundview Park.
There he worked on his game hard enough to earn full scholarships at Monsignor Scanlan High School and then Medaille College in Buffalo.
But while the street courts were a saving grace for the 30-year-old ,they were sadly unkempt since the 90s.
Originally owned by Academy Houses, the courts are maintained by the Parks Department, and according to Zeigler, seldom cleaned, .
“It wasn’t a court people could use,” said Zeigler, who played on despite their conditions, which he described as “crazy.”
Some of those conditions included overgrowth, decaying trees and garbage strewn about the courts. Its unkempt leafy reputation was so widespread, locals dubbed the Academy Courts “The Jungle.”
“I’m six feet tall,” said Zeigler. “It was as big as I was.”
Zeigler couldn’t take it anymore.
“This court gave me a chance to go to high school and college for free,” said Zeigler, who now works as a teen coordinator at Phipps Community Center. “Why not try to fix it and have the generation behind me do the same thing?”
Using social media, Zeigler spread the word on his mission to clean up the park. He even raised $1200 for supplies needed to spruce the courts, including the installation of brand new Spalding rims.
But as Zeigler’s volunteers worked in clearing the courts on its major clean up day July 21, officials with the city Parks Department stopped by, which was set to clean up the park that week.
After a quick explanation of Zeigler’s initiative, Parks supervisor Kenneth Clinton jumped on board, assigning his guys to bolt the new rims to freshly coated backboards.
As luck would have it, volunteers with Lehman High School launched their own clean up effort at the court.
Even Assemblyman Marcos Crespo pitched in, re-painting several portions of the court.
“He gave us some painting pointers,” Zeigler said of Crespo.
With the major work over, Zeigler intends to keep the project going.
Anyone interested in contacting Zeigler can go to facebook.com/thegymprojectnyc.
Reach reporter David Cruz at 718-742-3383.
David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383